Sermon Text: The Zen of Grandfather
I’ve been thinking about Grandpa Wisdom.
The Zen of Grandfather has been on my mind. I have great memories of both my grandfathers. But it stuns me to realize that I’m now ten years older than they were in my classic memories.
While on vacation, I boated under the Thousand Island Bridge. That’s where the ashes of my maternal grandfather were committed to the St. Lawrence River. He and Grandma had a cabin cruiser, and we used to love to boat with them in the Thousand Islands. So it was fitting that their ashes would be committed there.
I’m a grandfather now, and I’ve been thinking of what I learned from my other grandpa, Grandpa Giroux. My Giroux grandparents had thirteen kids. My dad was their second child. I’m the oldest of thirty-nine grandchildren, and the youngest grandchild is forty years younger than I am.
Grandpa once said to me, “Big families are wonderful.” The more, the merrier, he thought. And when you think about it, that’s what church is supposed to be. If God’s love is so big and welcoming, that’s how church should be, right? There is always room for a new member of the family.
I learned some other Grandpa Wisdom from this big family: it takes all kinds. There are a lot of very different people in the Tribe of Giroux. We share some heredity, but we are pretty different. Same goes for the church. It takes all kinds, so we want to welcome all kinds.
Another teaching from the Zen of Grandfather is that you gotta laugh. Both of my grandpas loved to tease and laugh. Grandpa Jumps, my mom’s dad, had false teeth, and used to stick them out at me, which made me laugh. For a ten-year old, this is the last word in hilarity. The other one, Grandpa Giroux, called himself “the old goat.” He didn’t take himself — or anyone else — too seriously.
I think we church people should take ourselves lightly. Getting all puffed up and important will just explode in our faces. If you can’t laugh in church, close the doors and sell the place.
And I’ve been thinking about one other bit of Grandpa Wisdom. Make sure everyone gets fed. When all thirteen of his kids were grown, Grandpa used to say, “None of them went hungry.” He was proud of that. He and Grandma worked very, very hard to make ends meet. And they did it.
Make sure everyone gets fed. That’s our job as church, too. We feed people downstairs in the parish hall. We feed people through our CHOW pantry. We feed people at Trinity’s Canteen. And we feed people in the Eucharist.
That reminds me of my best memory of Grandpa Giroux. For me, this is the highest teaching in the Zen of Grandfather. It’s how I will remember him until the day I die.
My Grandma Marie got Alzheimer’s Disease in the 1980s. It robbed her, and it robbed us of her. She slowly lost her memory, slowly lost touch with us, slowly lost who she was.
But Grandpa kept his marriage vow to Marie — “for better, for worse — in sickness and in health — to love and to cherish.” He took care of her. He kept her home for years. And then his physical strength gave out. He finally gave in and placed her in a nursing home. But he visited her every day. Every single day. And he would say, “Ma, your old goat is here!”
She died in 1993. I remember being up in Plattsburgh before that to visit her with him — I remember like it was yesterday. I saw the way he put his arm around her and fed her. By then, she needed to be fed with liquid from a turkey baster. In between every swallow she took, he talked to her. He told her how wonderful she was. He told her how much he loved her.
And he told me — maybe because I’m a priest — he told me that God spoke to him and told him to take care of her. And he did.
Long after she had forgotten everyone else — friends, grandchildren, her own children, her own name — she still responded to him. There was something about his love. There was something about hearing his voice. There was something about being fed by him.
If that’s not the Eucharist, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not Jesus, I don’t know what is.
If that’s not what God is like, I don’t know what is.
The Zen of Grandfather taught me. It taught me what the parables of Jesus teach. Like the one we just heard today.
The more, the merrier.
There’s always room for a new member of the family.
Big families are wonderful.
But it takes all kinds.
So ya gotta laugh.
And make sure — make sure — everyone gets fed.
That’s what this parable from Luke’s Gospel says.
That’s what Jesus says.
And that’s what Grandpa Wisdom says.